DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Stone of Destiny

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Stone of Destiny

Stone of Destiny (2009) dir. Charles Martin Smith
Starring: Charlie Cox, Kate Mara, Billy Boyd, Robert Carlyle


Director Charles Martin Smith, after delivering the beautifully layered and rich Snow Walker, does a 180 back towards the fluffiness of his Air Bud beginnings. 'Stone of Destiny' sails through the middle ground of cinema as a saccharine dramatization of the heist of the obscure titular Scottish relic.

In 1296, the Stone of Destiny, once part of the throne of Scotland, was stolen by the evil English and for over 600 years was held in Westminster Abbey to be spitefully admired by tourists. And as the movement towards Scottish independence caught fire in the '50s the Stone became a symbol for the nation to rally around. Enter Ian Hamilton (Charlie Cox), a restless university student looking for a way to contribute to the Scottish cause.

An old journal from his deceased father, which has a description of the Stone, becomes his eureka moment: steal the Stone, bring it back to Scotland, skyrocket the cause of Scottish nationalism and stick it to his disapproving uncle/foster parent for good measure. All he needs is three friends, 50 quid and the cojones to make it happen. Hamilton and his accomplices — girl-next-door cutey Kay (Kate Mara), redheaded strongman Gavin (Stephen McCole) and local dweeb Alan (Ciaron Kelly) — travel to London and stake the joint the out in hopes of stealing the stone.

Since the film is based on the real life story of Ian Hamilton, the film can't be faulted for historical inaccuracy but it's certainly badly in need of some cinematic embellishment to push the story beyond the written page. Smith, as writer and director, doesn't challenge his characters enough to get us deeply involved in their journey. It's all smooth sailing with barely a credible threat or insurmountable speed bump towards the goal.

Smith also completely forgets he's making a heist film. There's a resemblance to the classical heist structure — find the target, recruit the team, do the research, case the joint, do the burglary, execute the escape — but films like these (The Italian Job, Topkapi) live and breathe with the details in between these beats and for comic heists, the characters that execute the plan. Stone of Destiny is unfortunately lacking both. The planning of the robbery is seen in a montage racing much too quickly through the procedural minutiae that puts the audience in the shoes of the characters.

The heroes are too earnest, their personalities largely indistinguishable from each other and as dull as their knit sweaters. Charlie Cox as Hamilton comes across like a Scottish Robert Sean Leonard: conservative and unmemorable, with everyone else cut from the same mould. The DVD's documentary is better than the average featurette, showing us the behind-the-scenes production stories, a breezy, conflict-free affair that perhaps lulled the filmmakers into overconfidence with what was going onto the screen.

This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca

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